Children, Church Life, Family, Reflectionary

Why would anyone go to church now?

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

The Boy wondered this, watching the news about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He has reached the age where he hears about the news at school, so we have become more open to having him hear and see things on TV, rather than trying to shield him from the hard things that happen. We need to be able to answer his questions ourselves. I don’t know if you have heard the common talk of 7th grade boys lately, but it definitely requires some counter-influences.

“Why would anyone go to church now?” He asked us again. “The doors are unlocked! Anyone could come in.”

It’s true that in church we are a special flock of sitting ducks, focused in one direction, both physically and spiritually. I rarely look around in church, when I am sitting in the pews, other than when we pass the peace. I estimate how large a crowd is behind me by the sounds they make. I’m trying not to seem overly interested in who is late, or whose children are making noise; I’m trying to be a good pastor’s wife.

Up front, as the pastor and preacher, it’s different. I’m counting heads, noting who is missing. But even then, I am not worrying about disaster, or I haven’t been, even though I know Kathryn has a plan in case someone dangerous comes into the sanctuary.

Experts offering their two cents worth on cable news recommended that churches review their emergency plans and look into security systems of staffing appropriate to their size and situation. Maybe, they suggested, someone in the congregation is already wearing a weapon to worship.

I know this is true in some of my colleague’s congregations.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

It’s not clear yet what the shooter’s relationship to religion was. His social media accounts were quickly archived, but not so fast that some bad actors didn’t have a chance to create alternative “likes” and loyalties for him. What does seem to be clear is that a man with a history of domestic violence threatened his mother-in-law, and then he shot up the church she attended. This morning the President suggested that had a neighbor not fired at the shooter, there might have been hundreds of deaths. A better guess is had he not been given chase, his next stop would have been his mother-in-law’s house.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

We did our best to reassure The Boy, pointing out that the shooter did not choose a church at random. I’m not sure how comforting that is, really. How was a guy who cracked his infant stepson’s skull out on the street to do this? He choked his wife; he punched his dog. Why don’t we take these clusters of behavior seriously? We don’t because we undervalue harm done to women/children, overvalue white men and their chance of a future. This is magnified when we add race, sexual orientation, gender identity to the victim side of the equation.

The permission given to this man to keep assaulting other people, the pattern of abuse he inflicted on others before Sunday, the ready availability of a weapon that can kill, terribly, so many people, so quickly – all these factors remain for other abusers, other men who cannot manage their anger or their disappointment or their frustration, who cannot resist the temptation of power and have the means available to deal out death.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

It might not be fair for me to make suggestions about what churches should do about their security when I am not serving one right now. Our own history as people of faith is problematic. Joshua and his house pledged to serve the Lord, but in the Promised Land, they used all their available weapons and powers to kill the people they saw as enemies, and to gain the land they wanted. They saw being the chosen ones as permission to deal out death. We should not be surprised that righteousness and power have been confused and conflated throughout human history.

Why would anyone go to church now? Our boy doesn’t drop his questions until he gets a satisfying answer, and he usually asks them again, just to be sure. We will go because it’s what we do, just like we ride on a bike path, or go to the movies, or attend a concert. We will go because most of us cannot maintain the kind of hyper-vigilance required to be on watch at all times. We will go because we want to be with the people we know and love. We will go for solace, and solidarity.

That is not enough.

I’m not saying this is easy. In the United States, we worship our guns like no other nation in the world, and some will say more guns are the answer. I do not believe this. We need to be direct in saying the god of guns is a false god. As much as I believe Jesus is among the grieving, I believe he is also pressing on his church to engage with the powers and principalities and say “No more!” Our culture privileges the powerful; often our church culture does the same. Yet we know Jesus proclaimed a preferential option for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We need the church to be a place where we talk about why mass shootings happen. We need to have those conversations and let God be part of them. We need to decide whether the church will be not just a voice speaking but a body acting to bring change in human priorities and understanding. If we have any power left as an institution, we must work together for good, in Jesus’s name.

I could stay screened here across the street, watching for unfamiliar vehicles and people, but I want more than the safe view from my window.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

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Orientation, Reflectionary

Queerfully Made

I’m giving thanks for the whole queer family today.

We are pastors, soldiers, legislators, moms and dads, single people, educators, coaches, artists, musicians, welders, bureaucrats, athletes, and administrators. We are tired, we are wrinkled, we are smooth and young; we are beautiful. We are young urban radicals, comparatively dull suburbanites, and hardworking outdoorsy folk. We are every race and shade, every shape and size, all religions and none.

We are funny, and sympathetic, and no better dancers than the rest of you, and sadly some are really terrible people, because we are human.

File Oct 31, 11 24 28 AMWe are the ones people look at twice and the ones people never identify as LGBTQIA+. We are the young cashier at the drive-through, and the brilliant professor in high heels, and the linebacker who hits the hardest, and the butch who looks smoking in a black t-shirt, and the spruce executive with the beautiful neckties, and at least one silver-haired mama wearing pearls and drinking a mocha at your local Starbucks.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of God, whose diversity is beyond human imagining, categories, prejudices, and phobias.

Prayers for Pastors

Siempre más

My God
When we read the news
Morning or night
There is
Always more

More cruelty
More devastation
More prejudice
More suffering

Siempre más

My God
We wonder where to start
How to keep going

Listen to Jesus
And it is clear

By speaking truth
Gathering strength
Sharing resources
Offering comfort and
Outrage as needed

Always more

You give us what we need

Mind and heart
Body and spirit
To get the work done
To get the word out

Siempre más

No one can do it alone
We thank you for community
For catalysts and cohorts
For our connection in you

For Christ
Who is
Always more

Prayers for Pastors

To raise holy hell

To raise holy hellHoly One

You give us strength
To face oppressors
To fight injustice
To bear misunderstanding
To bring peace

To resist evil

You make us ready
To comfort the suffering
To encourage the humble
To call out the hypocrites
To equip the saints

To unsettle the satisfied

You call on us
To walk our talk
To sing Your song
To shout down evil
To take a knee

To raise holy hell

May we rise up
To the tasks set
When they are hard
And necessary
Unpopular and
Revolutionary

In the name of Jesus

Amen

Prayers for Pastors

Would we open the doors?

Dear God,

I ask myself,

Would we open the doors
On a Friday night
And shelter protestors?

Or would we stop short,
Worried about the police,
Or angry neighbors?

Would we turn off the lights,
Draw the blinds,
Hide in the office?

Or would we be ready
With water and cookies,
And first aid kits?

Would we welcome strangers,
For Your sake,
And keep them safe?

O God,
who opens doors,
I hope so.


(Offered with thanksgiving for Central Reform Congregation and University United Methodist Church in St. Louis and their hospitality to protestors this weekend.)

Family, Mothering, Reflectionary

Jesus, Be a Shelter!

I would be having a better evening if not worrying about North Korea, and our President, and my daughter, LP, who is in Japan. At these times, I remind myself how many other moms are also worrying, sending their kids to school in Japan, where it is tomorrow morning. LP is there teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. It is a dream come true for her. But should she be there?

“When does it become too dangerous for US citizens?” is not the right question; it’s too dangerous for everyone, everywhere.

I guess this means we keep doing our work, living our lives, and whether that’s hopeful or foolish I do not know. I do know she loves it there. Today she might be teaching vocabulary to the elementary children who giggle and ask if she is popular “with the boys,” or coaching middle schoolers as they prepare to make speeches in English. She will work with the other teachers to protect the students in any emergency, because that is what teachers do.

She is far from Hokkaido, which is in the flight path for these missiles. Last time we talked about it, she had no idea where she would shelter if an alert went out for her region. She lives on the edge of town, near a rice field.

We are none of us safe. Violence won’t prevent violence. And you can’t fix crazy. I know some think God has worked a divine purpose through wars and human leaders, yet we are warned not to put our faith in mortals and princes. I’ve never admired the ones who threaten, who brag about their strength and power. Real courage lives in the ones who spread their wings over the chicks.

Cover us, Lord. Jesus, be a shelter! Not only for my child, but for all God’s children.

Church Life, LGBTQ, Ministry

Dear Mainline Church people (a response to the Nashville Statement)

Dear Mainline Church people,

I’m writing this in response to the Nashville Statement, a pernicious manifesto issued today by a coalition of conservative Evangelical Christians. In a season when the church could be speaking out against White supremacy, agitating for peace in a troubled world, finally getting some clean water for Flint, and mobilizing to help after Hurricane Harvey, they felt it was instead the time to reiterate their condemnation of LGBTQIA+ people and to be particularly specific in their disdain for trans* people.

Now, my Church people, some of you make space for your LGBTQIA+ siblings; we can really be part of the body of Christ with you. Some of you think you do it, but maybe you stopped at making a statement without doing any further work to figure out what might make us feel welcome to do things beyond coming to worship, or worry that if you have a rainbow anywhere on your premises, people will think you’re “the gay church.”

Meanwhile, our Evangelical cousins, empowered by the political success of the right, have doubled down on theology that is exclusive and cruel. They’ve affirmed their own superiority, denied the full humanity of LGBTQIA+ people, and declared that anyone who doesn’t agree and come over to their side of the line they are drawing is not a faithful Christian.

For Jesus’s sake and in Christ’s name, mainline pastors and leaders, have the conversations you’ve been putting off. I say these things with all love. Get clear about what it means to be welcoming and affirming. Fix up the forms parents fill out at Sunday School; why do they need to be gendered? Consider new signage for your bathrooms. Be ready when one of your young people comes out to you, ready to love and embrace that young person instead of setting them on the path of rejection. Have a Bible study and discuss alternative interpretations of scripture used by others to condemn, equipping yourselves for larger conversations in your neighborhoods.

Maybe even buy that rainbow flag for the outside of your church, so we know it’s safe to come inside.

Faithfully,
Martha